Arbor Day Hawaii to encourage reforestation

As you read this, we are in the Peruvian Amazon at the base of the Andes Mountains near Puerto Maldonado. We used the opportunity of a meeting of the International Palm Society to take a side trip to Cusco and the Inca ruins of Machu Pichu. Seeing this region again makes me realize just how important it is for humans to protect existing forests and replant wherever possible.

I may not be in Hawaii right now, but I want to remind kamaaina and malihini alike to focus on forests. Every year we celebrate Arbor Day on the first Friday of November. Our Hawaii Department of Forestry and Wildlife supplies trees to the public for free or at a nominal cost. For details, contact Jacob Witcraft at the Forestry Tree Nursery in Waimea at 887-6063.

There is also a great plant sale coming from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Old Kona Airport Park. Susan Ruskin of Quindembo Nursery said there will be more than 20 species of noninvasive clumping bamboos available. There will also be orchids, bromeliads, tropical fruits, water plants and even succulents and cactuses for sale. So use this opportunity to think green and plant at least one tree in remembrance of Hawaii’s Arbor Day. For details, contact Susan or Peter at Quindembo, 885-4968.

The first time I traveled down the Amazon River was in 1975. The International Palm Society had held a conference in Colombia. On a lark, I hopped on a mail plane to Leticia, Colombia. This small village bordering Brazil and Peru later became part of one of the main routes used by the South American drug cartels. In 1975, it was nothing more than an outpost and trading spot for the indigenous people. The Amazon rain forests seemed untouched by the outside world.

In the years since, I have been up and down the Amazon from the tributaries to the Atlantic several times. Voltaire Moise and I are now up river, on the eastern slope of the Andes. As we flew over the Amazon basin, we were shocked to see the amount of deforestation that has occurred over the past 35 years. Roads are cut into the virgin forest in many areas and soon after, land is cleared by burning. Cattle ranches then move in. This is one reason we are seeing beautiful forest hardwoods made available for flooring and other construction uses. It is hoped that reforestation will occur along with deforestation. Some of the areas where indigenous people live are being protected, but will it be enough to keep these “lungs of the planet” healthy? In the Peruvian Amazon, there has been much less destruction than downriver. Ecotourism may be giving this region some protection.

Now, let’s reflect on what is happening and can happen at home. For the last several years, there has been severe drought in the west causing fires and deforestation. More than 350 square miles of forest went up in smoke near Yosemite this summer. On the other hand, Colorado, which experienced drought last year, recently had some of its worst flooding in history, partly because of deforestation.

Our planet is suffering from deforestation. Untold numbers of species have been lost and climates altered. But what can we do to reverse this trend? Reforestation projects often require drought hardy species such as eucalyptus and neem, or fast growing types such as bamboos. Whatever trees we use, we need to start planting. Much of the tropics, including Hawaii could become desert if deforestation and climate change continues. Imagine how our island might have appeared when the first Polynesians set foot on it. There were forests covering Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai and much of Mauna Loa. Dryland forests extended to Kawaihae. It is time to reverse the trend of deforestation.

Forests help reduce wind velocity and erosion. Some secondary effects of reducing wind velocity are modification of temperature in the protected area as well as increased humidity and reduced evaporation in the protected area. This reduces dust problems and supplies shelter and food for wildlife. Planting trees can preserve forest watersheds and native ecosystems as well as tie up some of the excess carbon in our atmosphere.

Forests and their effect on the local climate are nothing new, but as important as they are, they have not been put to use as much in Hawaii as they should be.

In many ways, in Hawaii, we are on the right track, but we must continue to make a difference. If each Hawaii Island resident plants one tree per month, that adds up to millions of new trees in a year. We also need to change our agricultural and urban development practices to give more incentives for land managers and owners to keep and protect our forests. Presently, there are tax reduction incentives for those who dedicate their lands to forest. Marginal grazing lands are ideal for reforestation, but our laws and regulations need to reflect more support for ranchers and other landowners interested in planting and maintaining forests on their lands. If you are interested in dedicating lands to agriculture including forests, contact our county tax office and planning department for assistance.

It is very sad to see so much destruction of our world’s great forests, but we can demonstrate good forest stewardship in Hawaii if we truly make that commitment. During tough economic times like these, it is difficult to think far into the future, but we must remember what we waste and misuse now steals from our children and grandchildren.